Thursday, July 4, 2013

Interview: Author Daniel C. Chamberlain

Your first novel, The LongShooters, is set in the days after the Civil War.  What was it like to write a novel set in this period?  What kinds of research were involved in the writing of The Long Shooters?

Jill, first of all, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you and your readers about my work.  It’s always an honor to find someone who shows an interest in the “Theater of the West.” We’ve romanticized this era a bit and my aim is to make it a bit more real to those who were raised on Hollywood’s idea of what the western frontier was like. 

Writing the novel was actually pretty easy.  Being a retired criminal investigator, a murder mystery was a natural for me.  I have to tell you, I didn’t “technically” research anything for the book.  I lived it.  Having spent some years in Denver, I was really intimately familiar with the area.  Being a nut for the outdoors, I’ve trod every trail I write about in the book.  If I describe a spot, it’s there.  If my protagonist drinks from a trickle coming from a rock, I’ve refreshed myself from that trickle.  I’ve camped where my characters have camped and so on.  All the rest comes from being a student of history and one can amass a huge amount of knowledge over time that becomes a valuable resource for writing. 

How did you come up with the characters Samuel Roark and Matthew Shaw?  Is there a little bit of either of them in you?  Maybe both of them?

What a wonderful question! I’ve thought a little about this and your question is pretty insightful.  Let’s take Shaw.  He’s a ‘man hunter’ and having spent a significant portion of my adult life – twenty-five years – in pursuit of criminals, his was an easy character to create.  I like to say I modeled Shaw after myself and then I gave him looks, intelligence and six-pack abs.  Still, I look back on some of the confrontations I faced and it was pretty easy to make Shaw believable.

As for Samuel, his was a haunted, brooding character of the sort that isn’t anything like me, except for the thirst for knowledge he displayed in his need for news and books.  Actually, Samuel is sort of the antithesis of me.  He is undoubtedly an intelligent and educated man, but he’s a bit like the sort who believes only in his own counsel and that any opinion other than his own is simply wrong.  He’s not the kind to consider other people’s viewpoints.  I’ve debated his sort many times and while I didn’t have an actual person in mind when I created him, I had no end of examples from which to create my composite. 
Your second novel, Battle of Fortune Wells, would make a terrific movie!  If Hollywood came knocking on your door, and you were given carte blanche, whom would you cast in the lead roles?

Initially, when the story was in its infancy, Tom Selleck was my mental model for Killain.  But I recognize he’s simply too old for the part.  Kurt Russell and Russell Crowe would make be great actors to play the lead.  Their incredibly sexy manliness, sensitivity and “man-of-action” type personas are perfect.  As for Jenny, well before her disfiguring plastic surgery, Meg Ryan would have been perfect.  In my mind, that leaves Kate Hudson as the front-runner. 

Still, I’m not sure Hollywood would agree with you that the book would make a great movie.  There’s nothing politically correct about Battle of Fortune Wells.  It certainly doesn’t walk in lock-step with a progressive view of the Native American’s history, with the exception on the viewpoint where they are considered eternal victims.  Of course they were victimized. That really happened, more than once and should be recognized as a monumental failing in the U.S. government’s dealing with its native people. 

But Hollywood would never make a movie today where it would be acknowledged that the North American Native American was anything but a victim.  One has to look at the history of our native peoples to recognize that while the U.S. government was responsible for great failures resulting in incalculable misery, the natives themselves in most cases did the exact same thing to the weaker tribes they encountered throughout their history.  Certainly, there were alliances between tribes, but there was also a vast history of warfare and unimaginable cruelty toward members of other tribes the likes of which the Hollywood elites and the progressives either refuse to believe, or desire to downplay.  It’s unfortunate.

You’ve written novels set in the Antebellum South and the Wild West… is there another historic period you might like to use as a fictional backdrop someday?

St. Louis comes to mind since it’s only twenty miles away.  Actually, if I was to create another detective in an historical setting, there’s plenty of history to be found right across the river from where I live.  Another era that has been romanticized is the “Roaring Twenties.”  The area where I live has a rich legacy from which to draw.  This might be a possibility.

Name two authors who influenced you or whose writing you try to emulate.

Only two? You handcuff me!  Actually, since you asked for two I’d have to say, John D. MacDonald would be #1.  He was more than just a writer.  He was a ‘pondering’ man.  Great thought went into his story lines without overburdening them with excessive prose.  His dialogue was as human as it gets.  His characters were intelligent, articulate and life-like.  He had a way of making the supporting characters more important than the leads in some cases.  I really loved his books.  My greatest admiration of a writer is believable dialogue.  I will stop reading books quickly if the dialogue doesn’t ‘feel’ natural. 

The second writer who had the greatest impact on my ‘coming up’ would be Donald Hamilton.  He wasn’t a great writer as far as that goes, but he was darn good, but his fiction was largely pulpish and limited in readership.  But it was easy to see – well easy if you have my background – that Hamilton, given his World War II experience knew things about death and violence that a careful reader would find very authentic indeed.  You knew he’d seen people die.  So have I.  So when I write about death and dying, I want the reader to ‘taste’ the bitterness on their tongue. 

You seem to have a talent for creating strong characters who break the rules, and who are faced with what seem to be insurmountable challenges.  How does an author create such heroes without going over the top?  How do you blend trailblazers, mavericks and survivors?

From history!  There are numerous examples of men and women who dealt with the struggle for survival on the frontier.  The west was a place where “law” came late.  People had an idea of what was right and what was wrong.  Antisocial behavior was dealt with largely by those citizens who had the courage and/or the means to deal with it.  Absent courts of law, you had citizen posses or in some cases, vigilantes to keep the peace.  Justice was meted out a bit haphazardly in some cases and there is no doubt some innocent people were invited to necktie parties.  I don’t excuse it; I simply allow history to speak for itself. 

A true-to-life character example would be Wyatt Earp.  He was, by nature a quiet man.  Whether or not he always stood on the side of law and justice, it cannot be denied he was a man who stood for what he believed in.  What’s more important, his life has been chronicled very accurately if you get away from the turn of the century fiction (between 1899 and 1901) that sensationalized his exploits.  The truth was great enough without the embellishments.

Going over the top would be a character like Jason Bourne.  It’s simply humanly impossible for one man to do what he does – story after story.  Another would be James Bond.  As for the characters I’ve created, they are not larger-than-life.  They are examples of life, in a different time and place.  Unfortunately, there are thousands of actual examples we will never know about because no one ever wrote their story, or their life’s story ended too soon.

So many good novels – in just about any and every genre – have a thread, or a subplot of a love story.  Do you think romantic tension – like that between Shaw and Sarah - is necessary in contemporary fiction?

Not necessarily necessary, but they help keep me interested in writing the next sentence.  Actually in fiction, as in life, romantic tension is often the spice that keeps life interesting.  It’s why many people casually flirt, even if they have no intention of taking it beyond that stage.  I don’t write erotica, that is, unless gunplay turns you on.  But I don’t believe my main “male” characters would be complete without the female characters to give them a purpose in life other than to be butt-kicking action heroes.  Still, you won’t find me writing anything along the lines of Broke-Back Mountain and you won’t find my guys singing to their horses.  Every larger-than-life male character in the old west either fought for the love of a woman or was brought down by one.  Art imitating life…etc.  

What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? 

Emulate another author you like.  Absolutely not!  Find a dozen authors you really respect for different reasons.  Devour their writing.  Decide what’s good about it and what’s not so good and find your own way.

And the best?  Finish the darn book!  Don’t make it perfect as you go along.  Try to perfect it after it’s done.   Too many people keep going back to the first chapter and editing to get to the point where they left off.  Don’t do that!  You will continually alter the first chapters and never finish the last.  Finish the story.  You can then go back to the beginning and re-read, re-write, edit, alter, ad-nauseum.  Oh, and every short story can be a novel.         

What is the funniest-weirdest thing a reader has ever said to you or about you and your books (whether in person or online or in a review or …)

Well, with The Long Shooters, one reviewer was confused by the prologue, believing it to be a series of short stories.  I was mildly nonplussed by that.  It was hard to believe the guy couldn’t recognize it for what it was.  Still, he gave me a “4” so I shouldn’t complain. 

I have also gotten some criticism, which seems odd.  One critic actually said it’s obvious I write from a man’s perspective.  I wonder what their first clue was? Of course I write from a man’s perspective.  I intend to continue doing so.  I’m a man and I see things through a man’s eyes.  Certainly, I can try to write from a woman’s perspective, but just like I could never truly get inside what it means to be black, I can’t really know what it means to be a woman either.  So ladies, don’t fault a guy because he doesn't perfectly capture what it means to be a woman.  Any guy who can do that doesn’t know how to fix the faucet or sharpen a bowie knife!

One last thing about odd critiques.  A few people have faulted my dialogue saying the characters were too intellectual; too articulate for the period.  How incredibly ignorant!  If anything, the educated people of the west – and there were many – spoke in a manner we should all appreciate.  One need only read the journalizing from the period to realize English wasn’t a second language. It WAS the language.  Much is the pity that modern writers who write about the west have to insert so much imagined slang into the dialogue.  I write about intelligent people and their intelligence will be reflected in their manner of speech.  

The last question is a bit of a freebie.  What is the one question you wish I had asked you but didn’t?  Now go ahead and ask and answer that question.

What’s next?
I’m leaving the west behind and writing an action/adventure drawing a little from my professional life, though I have to add a disclaimer that the agency represented in the story doesn’t really exist now, though there was a time when such things did occur and such people did exist.  I’ll even reference them a bit during the story.  Suffice it to say, the main characters will once again be the kind of guys and girls who step outside the constraints of absolute law and order to do that which the vast majority of people cannot either do, or imagine doing.  There won’t be any Jason Bourne types in the book.  Everything will have an absolute ring of authenticity and gritty realism.  If I describe a death scene, you can bank on it representing exactly the process of dying!  There won’t be any Hollywood myths or mistakes either.   
I’m really excited about the story, which is done.  Now I’m going back and doing that mind-numbing process of eternal editing.

                   Thanks again for the opportunity.  This has been a lot of fun. 


For more on Dan, check out his WEBSITE
Get his books on AMAZON
And follow him on Twitter @DanCChamberlain

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